‘We want better rail service’

A CAMPAIGN group is demanding improvements to the Hastings to London rail service after the Government revealed plans to renew the Southeastern franchise in 2014.

The East Sussex Rail Alliance (ESRA) says it wants to see faster journey times on the London to Charing Cross line, a retention of a direct service to the City, better weekend timetables, an improvement in station maintenance and the publication of line-by-line punctuality figures to coincide with fare increases.

ESRA is an umbrella group comprising the four main rail user groups in East Sussex: Bexhill Rail Action Group (BRAG), East Coastway Commuter Group (ECCG), MarshLink Action Group (MLAG) and St Leonards and Hastings Rail Improvement Programme (SHRIMP).

In a new report published by ESRA, the group says the current Integrated Kent Franchise (IKF) paid little attention to the needs of the users of the Hastings Line, which runs through Battle, Robertsbridge, Etchingham and Crowhurst stations.

ESRA claims where east Kent rail users have seen an improvement in services, those in Sussex have not.

Its report said: “Although many towns in east Kent received a qualitative upgrade in services from December 2009 in the form of High Speed ‘Javelin’ services, there was no parallel improvement in services between Hastings and London.

“The off-peak timetable on the Hastings Line is particularly unsatisfactory, being effectively an extension of a quarter-hourly outer suburban London – Tunbridge Wells ‘metro’ service, which was designed principally around the needs of Orpington and Sevenoaks – two stations which have plenty of other trains.

“The result is a slow service for the Hastings Line, which is especially prone to overcrowding in the shoulder-peaks.

“Furthermore, ESRA remains concerned that the peak-hour service on the Hastings Line may deteriorate following the completion of the Thameslink project, and seeks an assurance that peak-hour services will be maintained between Hastings Line stations south of Tunbridge Wells, and the City of London.

“This could be achieved either by retaining peak hour services to/from Cannon Street, or extending proposed Thameslink services south of Tunbridge Wells in the peak.”

The report sets out a list of ESRA’s service priorities, including a faster service to Hastings, earlier first and later last services on Sundays, Boxing Day services and a limited-stop off-peak service between Hastings and London, calling at St Leonards Warrior Square, Battle and Tunbridge Wells only, in addition to the current two trains an hour.

ESRA has also vowed to continue to fight any moves to scrap the peak service between Hastings and Cannon Street.

The group says: “It is essential that a direct link is retained between Hastings Line stations and the City of London.

“The long-standing proposal to scrap the peak Cannon Street service is unacceptable unless there is a corresponding extension of the proposed Thameslink – Tunbridge Wells service.

“We do not accept the recommendations of the Kent RUS in this respect and will continue to campaign vigorously alongside MPs, local councils and other stakeholders.”

Martin Woodfine, from SHRIMP, said: “The franchise renewal process is a good opportunity to seek statute improvements to rail services in our area and we shall be liaising with all the relevant offices to achieve these objectives.”

Ray Chapman, from ESRA, said: “In conjunction with a new franchise covering Southern and Thameslink services, these are good and hopefully beneficial opportunities to redress years of under-investment and the subsequent poor rail services in this area. Hastings should not be a railways after-thought.”